(Español) Manuel Chaves Nogales: A sangre y fuego

Sorry, this entry is only available in Español.

An interview with Ivan Ilic: “I’m interested more and more in obscure things”

This is a story of connecting dots. Some months ago, while I was surfing on the Internet, I ended up reading about the Quatuor Scientifique (scientific quartet) by Anton Reicha. There was a new recording being released by the Reicha Quartet on Brilliant Classics. And it seemed to be the only recording to date of that strange string quartet, which I found fascinating —it has twelve movements out of which nine are fugues!!—, by Reicha. I listened to it and then I told a friend of mine, the great violinist Mikhail Pochekin, about it. It was Mikhail who some days later sent me a link to a video of some Reicha piano works. On that video appeared a pianist of whom I had never heard before: Ivan Ilic. I did some research and I found that he had recorded some unpublished piano works by Anton Reicha. I downloaded from iTunes his two Reicha CDs on Chandos which I found really, really interesting and new to me. Then I wrote a little article on Reicha’s music based on what I had learnt from listening to Ivan Ilic’s recordings and videos. Some time later, I connected to Ivan Ilic via Twitter and Facebook —yes, the wonders of 21st century technology!— and we both shared some impressions online. By the beginning of August 2019, a new CD on Haydn symphonies transcribed by Carl David Stegmann (1751-1826) for the piano was released on Chandos. Guess who was the pianist: Ivan Ilic! So, I decided to get in touch with him and ask him whether he would be interested in an interview that I would later publish on my blog. And here you are! This is the result of connecting the dots in music!

​I read the booklet, in which you explained how you found ​Carl David Stegmann​’s​ transcriptions of Haydn’s Symphonies. But what led you from Reicha to Haydn, as your last recordings for Chandos were of Reicha?

Ivan Ilic at his 1930 Pleyel piano. Photo by Ker Xavier.

Ivan Ilic at his 1930 Pleyel piano. Photo by Ker Xavier.

Good question! There is part of the story, which explains the link, which I didn’t include in the booklet notes. Three years ago, my friend Veronika was given these versions of four Haydn Symphonies, a remnant of an old mu​​sic collection. I found one of them very interesting, number 44, and also very successful at the piano. The other three, I thought, were not as successful and, therefore, it was a bit of a dead-end. I wasn’t sure how to take the project forward, because the obvious thing would have been to do a recording with three or four of them, but I didn’t have any more of the [Stegmann] arrangements. So, I tried to research and asked some musicologist friends to help me locate more of these Haydn-Stegmann transcriptions.

Using the German university research search engine, we found one in Braunschweig and one in Saarbrücken, but it was very difficult to find several in one place. It seemed unlikely that I would easily be able to find more that were as good as number 44 and make a CD. So, at this point, I kind of said to myself “OK, this isn’t the right time. I’m not sure how to go forward”. I performed number 44 a lot for a while, and then moved on. Then, of course, the Reicha project started and we did this documentary series, and I was at the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, the town where both Reicha and Beethoven lived and studied. I was at the archive as part of my research, and I had coffee with the lead archivist there. Then I remembered that Stegmann had made his transcriptions for a publisher in Bonn, Simrock, and also that Stegmann lived in Bonn, and it was at this very moment, in 1811 or so, that he started these transcriptions. Then I thought, well, this was two hundred years ago and all this was happening in Bonn, so who knows, maybe I should ask. So, I asked her and she checked the archive, and it turns out that they had twenty, which was extraordinary, because it’s the only library I know in the world which has twenty of these. It’s unclear to me whether there are twenty five in total [as indicated in the liner notes by Marc Vignal] or thirty of Stegmann’s transcriptions, but certainly twenty was for me unbelievable luck. So, they let me reproduce them and I then, of course, took the time to look at what else there was, and I found several more that were worthwhile. I picked what I think are the best ones for the recording. It quickly became clear – this was about a year ago – that there should be a CD and that the music was good enough.

Are you planning to record any other symphonies by Haydn?Chandos Ivan Ilic

I don’t know yet. Of course, with Reicha there is a series. There will be five solo CDs and there will be an additional sixth CD which is not announced yet: we’ll be recording his piano concerto. That was confirmed recently. When you do a series, it takes time to do, and sometimes you have to take a break, because otherwise you go crazy, just doing one composer for five years. With the Haydn-Stegmann CD, I discussed this with Chandos and I asked them if it was ok if we see how things go with the first one and then, if I want to do more, maybe I have the option, but I don’t have to. I certainly have more of the scores. So, it is possible for me to do more, but I haven’t decided yet.

Your plan is to continue with the Reicha series?

Reicha Rediscovered Ivan IlicYes, the next CD will be Reicha. It is scheduled to be recorded in January 2020 and released in August 2020. And there will also be the Piano Concerto which we will record in early June 2020, for a release in November 2020. So, the next two CDs are Reicha, they are both being planned carefully. Definitely, I’ll be consumed with Reicha after this. This is something I noticed with other Chandos artists I admire. When they do big series, they do other things in between. I think it’s a musically healthy way of surviving these series, otherwise it feels like you are doing it as a responsibility, not as a pleasure.

Alongside your Reicha CDs I’m guessing you’ve planned some concerts as well, right? Is it a European tour, around the United States…?

What I’m doing mostly is, as opposed to planning a tour which is just for a CD release, I’m trying to perform the pieces as much as I can, both before and after. For example, when I’m preparing the pieces for the recordings, I am sneaking them into my programmes. The way I found of doing this is that when people ask me for my concert programmes, whenever possible, I send them, for example, 65 minutes of what will become an 80 minute programme. Then, closer to the concert date I decide which pieces by Reicha I will add. So, that way people have their Beethoven and their Mozart and their Chopin and they are fine hearing a little bit of something different and new. And it gives me the flexibility to play the pieces that I need to. One of the dangers when you record unknown music is if it’s never been recorded before, if it’s never been played before in concert, you’ve never played it before, well, it’s dangerous to learn it just for the recording.

Was it easy, at first, to include this music in concert programmes? You have to pass the filter of people who are in charge of the programmes. Is it easy to get Reicha into a concert programme?

It is only easy when you combine it with composers that they know and with good stories. For example, something I’ve done often is to do concerts with Haydn, Beethoven and Reicha, because they knew each other. There is a strong historical link. You can explain that they were close to one another. And, of course, their music is very different. You might confuse certain pieces of Haydn with certain pieces of Beethoven, but usually it’s easy to tell who you are listening to. And Reicha, of course, is also very different. That helps with contrast. But you do have to convince people. There are concert organizers who refused: “I don’t know the music, it’s risky”. I’ve found that doing videos has helped. If I send a link to a YouTube video which is being seen twenty thousand times and well-liked, and presents the piece well, then people feel more comfortable.

Reicha is a composer of the late classical period, why did you decide to record Reicha on a modern piano and not on a fortepiano, which is the instrument he actually played?

Good question. Clearly both are possible. I think the main reason is because I myself perform almost exclusively on modern instruments. And I think that, contrary to popular consensus, there’s actually a great variety of different modern instruments. Even if you compare certain instruments from thirty years ago with instruments of today there is a lot of variety. So, it’s what I do best, it’s what I’m most comfortable with and, therefore, I think it makes the most sense for me to do it that way. Also, this allows me to compare the music to other music we know from the period which has been recorded on modern instruments. For example, if you want to know how Reicha fits into music history and you want to know how his music compares to Haydn or Beethoven but also how his music compares to some of his students like Franck, and Liszt and Berlioz and others who wrote for more recent pianos, it makes sense, if you want to know how it fits, to compare him with the instrument on which most music is played. I wouldn’t say it is a bad idea, of course, to play it on other instruments, but I think it is very interesting to compare him next to recordings on modern instruments of everyone else.

We’ve been speaking about music research, music recording, and music performing. Now, all this takes a lot of time. Is it easy to combine your life as a professional musician with your family life?

Well, actually I was apprehensive that it wouldn’t be, but it’s not as bad as I expected. Obviously you are planning your time carefully and also you have to have help. If you are travelling a lot, someone has to be with the children. As long as you can organize that, it’s fine. Also I think that you have to look at the positive side of things. When I am here, I’m working hard to prepare recordings and concerts and things and there are times when I’m here a lot more than people who, let’s say, have a normal job. My father, for example, left for work before 8 am and returned after 7 pm, everyday… In contrast, when I’m here, preparing something, I have lunch with my children and I’m seeing them all the time. I guess you have to find your own balance. But it is possible!

Coming back to Haydn, is it easier putting Haydn into a programme rather than Reicha?

Yes, definitely. I think it is easier even though it’s strange, this idea of playing symphonies at the piano. But it’s still less strange just because Haydn is so famous. The music sounds familiar. There are certain symphonies that are quite famous. The London Symphonies, for example. There is the Surprise Symphony, also. Actually there is wonderful transcription of the Surprise Symphony with the melody [Ivan starts playing the famous theme of the Andante on the piano] which ends with variations and it works astonishingly well on the piano. I was tempted to record it, but actually I decided not to, because if it was something so famous, it becomes distracting. People would just be obsessed with this one variations piece. Instead I recorded number 75 of which even the orchestra version is not played very often, it’s not been recorded very much. The point isn’t for me to say these transcriptions are beautiful. It’s just beautiful music whether it is a transcription or not. Frankly, it’s surprising even to me that this music works well on the piano, the way it does. It doesn’t sound like an arrangement like certain pieces do, in an awkward way, A lot of them could have been written for the piano. That was a surprise, I didn’t expect that.

I love music, you love music. You are a professional musician. We know Haydn. But there are loads of people, even people who listen to classical music, who don’t really know Haydn. They know Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin… Now my question to you, who knows Haydn!?

Yes, exactly. It’s intriguing. Actually this is a question which fascinates me and I find it hard to understand why. I think one of the reasons why has to do with the story and with the necessity for people to have a story that has to do with the life of the composer which is memorable and which is, as we say in French, romanesque, it’s like a novel. Something which happens to them which is fantastic. For example, with Mozart there is the film Amadeus which is very helpful in establishing Mozart as character in the minds of the public. With Beethoven there’s such a mix with the man, how lonely he was, how frustrated and, at the same time, what a symbol he was for revolution, for humanity, for noble ideas despite having a pretty rough life. I think with Haydn, first of all, he published so much music. Also his life wasn’t as “sexy” so to speak – besides the fact that he had an affair with a singer for a long time because he had a terrible marriage – well, there isn’t a similar Romantic narrative to capture the public’s imagination. For instance, Chopin had tuberculosis and died young, he was such an eccentric. It’s true, we don’t know much about Bach except for the fact that he had so many children, of course. Many of them died as infants, but nobody remembers that… Haydn seems to not quite fit the pattern of how we have revived music of the past via story telling. There is the idea of the frustrated genius, which is very much a Romantic idea, which historians constructed in the 19th century when we started developing an interest in the past, and for many years Haydn has been forgotten and underestimated… Of course, his music is played, but if you look at the recordings of all the Beethoven sonatas, now there must be several hundred versions, and of Haydn sonatas there are not that many versions. And with some of the sonatas, we are not even sure if he’s wrote them or not. There is a Chandos series underway with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, which I think is probably going to become the best version of Haydn piano sonatas. It’ll be an interesting and convincing version, it certainly has been so far. So, it’s a kind of a mystery. It may be that he published too much music. Sometimes I think that if Haydn had only published a third of his best pieces, then he might be better known. But this is something very difficult to understand. These things are very personal and they are very different based on the country you are in.

Sometimes people are surprised when I mention this topic of reception based on geography. But because I’ve lived in Yugoslavia and in America and in France and I’ve toured the UK extensively early in my career, I have perspectives on these different countries and what they like and what they don’t. For example, people outside of France get surprised when I tell them that Beethoven is not that popular in France. In other words, French people have much more affection for Mozart and Chopin than they do for Beethoven. And they enjoy Haydn whereas, for example, in the English speaking world, certainly in the UK but also in America, Beethoven is considered, much more interesting. More interesting than, let’s say, Chopin, too. He’s more of a mythical figure than Mozart. These things are undoubtedly geographical. In Serbia, Russian music is important, it has a central position in the musical canon, whereas in other countries it is considered a little bit like Spanish music of the early 20th century, exotic and maybe a little bit of a separate category. Which of course is absurd if you look at the best composers. We all have local perspectives. Haydn, because he was so successful in London, still has a better reception in the UK than he does in some other territories. As does Haendel, who became a kind of a British composer. All of this is difficult to disentangle.

What would you say to people who usually don’t listen to classical music for them to approach Haydn, moreover, on the piano rather than with an orchestra?

There is a paradox with this CD, because as my career progresses, I’m interested more and more in obscure things, things that are unknown, never played before, strange versions of music. On the other hand, I think the CD might be the most accessible thing I’ve ever done, at least in terms of recordings. When I play excerpts of it for people who know nothing about classical music, I think it is very easy to understand and to appreciate, you kind of feel like dancing along to it. There are melodies, there are rhythms which give you energy. It’s the kind of CD you can listen to when you are driving in a car or when you are working on something and you just want something in the background. And this is surprising to me because my goal was not to make an accessible CD, but it’s just the way it’s turned out. In every country, there is a more intellectual radio station and then you have a Classic FM or Radio Classique, where they play movements, they play lighter music, things like Vivaldi and Handel and Mozart… In a way, this CD is more appropriate for that second kind of radio station than a radio station for experts. That makes sense. If there are people who listen to popular classical music and enjoy it, I think the CD is more for them than it is for someone who spends all day listening to unknown piano music or loves comparing versions of Beethoven sonatas. I’m not sure those people would be interested, actually. When I decided to make this CD I was not thinking about these things. When it’s done, you have a little bit of distance and you can realize who it is for.

Ivan Ilic. Photo by Florent Lorrande

Ivan Ilic. Photo by Florent Larronde

In the classical period, it was a common practice to transcribe orchestral works into piano scores. The transcriptions of the Haydn symphonies you’ve been playing are not yours. Have you ever thought of making your own transcriptions of other works? I’m not talking about Haydn, particularly.

I have done some transcriptions in the past. For example, there was a period in my life where I was very interested in left-hand repertoire. I recorded a bunch of Godowsky etudes for left hand. That led me to do concerts of left-hand repertoire and I found that there wasn’t enough of it. So, I started doing transcriptions of French songs and I made arrangements for one hand. And that was a very interesting experience because, you can’t play everything with one hand in three different registers. You have to pick and choose and it makes you establish a hierarchy of what’s important and what you leave out. And that is absolutely fascinating.

With respect to the Haydn/Stegmann, I don’t think about these pieces as transcriptions. I think like many musician and even amateur musicians, I have a big musical library, I have lots of classics, I have lot of scores that I’ve almost never opened, sometimes I go to old bookstores and I find used scores (in Prague there are lots of bookstores with used music for sale), I buy lots of old scores and then I forget about them. Then you just take some time and sightread things you don’t know very well and sometimes you find something very interesting and it surprises you! Maybe you open an anthology of music from one period and I realize this is an amazing piece even when I play it very badly and very slowly, but really it still seems as if there’s something there. And I think that music deserves to be heard. The technology of the time when we didn’t have recordings was to make a transcription. It’s ironic, because I’m making a transcription of a transcription if that makes sense. Making a recording of a transcription is like going a further step away from the symphony. It is two generations of technology. One generation was the transcription and the next generation was making a recording. There is some kind of a connection there which is intellectually titillating.

Michael Thallium

Global & Greatness Coach
Book your coaching here

You can also find me and connect with me on:

Facebook Michael Thallium and Twitter Michael Thallium

(Español) A ti, Cerebro

Sorry, this entry is only available in Español.

(Español) Dante, la mocedad enamorada y el piano de Dombriz

Sorry, this entry is only available in Español.

Deathbed Regrets

Glasgow Botanics, 2012

Glasgow Botanic Gardens, 2011

Here you are some of the things people regret on their deathbed:

  1. I wish I hadn’t worked that much.
  2. I wish I had kept in touch with my friends.
  3. I wish I had allowed myself to be happier.
  4. I wish I had had the courage to express my true self.
  5. I wish I had lived a life faithful to my dreams instead of to the expectations others had about me.

How many of these regrets are already part of your life?

We all have our little or big kind of “phantom life”: unrequited loves, prizes you’ve never been awarded, jobs you weren’t offered, broken promises… So, what? If you miss the boat, wait for the next one and get on it; if there are no more boats, look for a bus, a car, a bike… you still have your feet to walk. You can spend your life regretting all those everyday disappointments or, on the contrary, celebrating, modestly, leisurely and without conceit, all those little life pleasures that, in the end, you can decide to enjoy.

Michael Thallium

Global & Greatness Coach
Book your coaching here

You can also find me and connect with me on:

Facebook Michael Thallium and Twitter Michael Thallium

Antoine Reicha & The Piano (I): Practical Examples

Père-Lachaise Anton Reicha TUMBAOn May 28th 1836, at the cemetery Père-Lachaise in Paris, the now lifeless and musicless body of the Knight of the Legion of Honour and member of the Academy of Fine Arts of the Institute of France was given burial: Antoine Reicha. The following year, a group of colleagues from the Conservatory of Paris defrayed a memorial and had it placed at Reicha’s tomb, so that posterity would preserve the memory of Reicha’s steps on the Earth. A simple plaque reads: To REICHA (Antoine Joseph), professor of counterpoint at the Conservatory of music, member of the Institute and the Legion of Honor. Born in Prague on February 25th, 1770 and deceased on May 28th, 1836.  Starting by his name, he was a peculiar character. He was born Antonín Rejcha, then,  during his education in Germany, Anton Reicha (pronounced “raixa”) and, later, when he became a French citizen, Antoine Reicha. He shared his birth year with one of the greatest in music: Ludwig van Beethoven. And destiny wanted them both not only to meet, but to become friends. Reicha outlived Beethoven by nine years.

At ten months old, Reicha became a paternal orphan. Apparently, his mother was not very interested in his education and this led Reicha to runaway from home when he was ten years old. His uncle, Josef Rejcha, a virtuoso cellist and composer, adopted the young boy and taught him his first lessons in music. It was Josef’s wife who insisted that Reicha should learn German and French as well. When Reicha was 15, his uncle was appointed cellist and leader of the Hofkapelle, the electoral court orchestra in Bonn. So the couple and the adopted child moved to Bonn in 1785. Soon afterwards Anton Reicha was playing violin and flute (his main instrument) in the Hofkapelle alongside a young violist born in Bonn: Ludwig van Beethoven. In 1789, at age 19, both young musicians joined the University of Bonn. Reicha read mathematics and philosophy. Many years later, in his memoirs of 1824 (Notes sur Antoine Reicha), Reicha stated that algebra and the philosophy of Kant had had a great influence on the way he approached music. In 1794 Reicha left Bonn for Hamburg. In the Hanseatic city, he earned his living by teaching piano, harmony and composition. Then, in 1799, he moved to Paris, where his orchestral works had a good response from the Parisienne audiences. Later, in 1802, Reicha decided to try his luck in Vienna. Interestingly, that year was one of the worst in Beethoven’s life, who had been in Vienna for some years already; 1802 was the year when Beethoven considered the idea of suicide and wrote his famous Heilgenstadt Testament. Reicha renewed his friendship with Beethoven in the Austrian capital, where he spent six years of prolific music writing. He became acquainted with Joseph Haydn, who was then at the peak of his fame.

In 1808, Antoine Reicha decides to settle down in Paris permanently. His reputation as a teacher and a connoisseur of the secrets of German instrumental music preceded him; Reicha was one of the most relevant figures in the European music world, a genuine cosmopolitan artist. In Paris, Reicha was surrounded by a small but very influential group of private students, among them George Onslow and the virtuoso violinist Pierre Baillot. We owe to them that Reicha’s music did not get lost. In 1818, Reicha was appointed professor of counterpoint and fugue a the Conservatory of Paris, where he taught Berlioz, Gounod, Liszt and César Franck among others.

Over a period of 17 years, between 1814 and 1833, Reicha had four major music treatises published. The pianist and composer Carl Czerny translated them from French into German; then English, Italian and Spanish editions followed and Reicha’s reputation consolidated in Europe. In 1829 Reicha was naturalized French and, two years later, he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour. In 1835, about a year before his death, he was admitted to the music section of the Academy of Fine Arts of the Institute of France.

Placa conmemorativa Reicha

Having done this short journey through Reicha’s life and achievements, why is it that his music has been in oblivion for so many years? Probably, a great deal of responsibility lies with Reicha himself, because he did not want to have many of his works published. Luckily, there has been a revived interest in the works of this great artist over the last decades. One of the persons we have to thank for the rediscovering and dissemination of Reicha’s piano works –let’s remember his main instrument was the flute– is the pianist Ivan Ilic. To this day, Ivan Ilic has published two volumes with Reicha’s piano works on the British label Chandos. The first volume of the series “Reicha rediscovered”, released in 2017, brings together hithertoReicha rediscovered CDunpublished piano works that Reicha wrote after his formative period, around 1800. Among these works, there are three “Practical examples” (Praktische Beispiele), Nos. 4, 7 & 20, which I am going to deal with next.

Between 1799 and 1803, Reicha wrote his “Philosophical and practical observations on the musical examples” (Philosophisch-practische Anmerkungen zu den praktischen Beispielen). These Anmerkungen (Observations) are didactical commentaries on the 24 piano compositions of his preceding “Practical Examples, a Contribution to the Intellectual Culture of the Composer” (Praktische Beispiele, ein Beitrag zur Geistes Cultur des Tonsetzers). Reicha explained the innovative character of this work as follows:

I wanted particularly to contribute to the cultivation of the artist’s intellect through the practical examples [Praktische Beispiele] and through the accompanying observations [Anmerkungen] to draw his attention to subjects that could be important for [...] the advancement of his art, just as I wished to see him freed [...] from the slavish bondage in which he has been held by the ignorance and bad taste of most of those who lay down the rules for the use of harmony.

In the Praktische Beispiele, Reicha treats the art of modulation –that is, harmony– in a quite surprising manner. In words of French musicologist Louise Bernard de Raymond, “Reicha constantly goes off at a tangent, suddenly moving to keys or chords that are unexpected syntactically in music of that time”. These “Practical Examples” are very original from the harmonic point of view. They are framed within the aesthetic of the keyboard fantasia, which is very close to improvisation, something very common among musicians of the time: knowing how to improvise was a must. The “Fantasia on a single chord” (Fantaisie sur un seul accord) and Harmony (Harmonie), Nos. 4 & 20 of the Praktische Beispiele, belong to this genre. In No. 4, the harmony is limited to a single chord so that the pianists can feel free to imagine different instrumental figurations. This is how Reicha explains it in the corresponding Observation:

The mind, restricted by a lack of means, seeks (and finds) solutions it would otherwise never have thought of, and thus it attains its goal.

The didactic aim is to give free rein to the imagination of the pianist or composer so that they can improvise and create similar pieces. No. 20, Fantaisie sur un soul accord, has a different character from the fantasia. The work starts with a sequence of sixteen chords, which serves as a pattern for the six fantasias that follow, each of which is based on the harmony of the preceding one and they all have different length, character, metre and tempo (the second one has a quintuple metre, very original for that time). This gives a capricious touch to this piece in line with the improvisation. The rhythmic freedom of “Practical Example no. 4″, Harmonie, where Reicha uses both duple and triple metres, is an example of surprising modulations which defy all the rules: the exposition of this movement in D minor and ends in the very remote key of F sharp major. The “Practical Example no. 7″, Capriccio (Allegro assai), follows a strict pattern of sonata-allegro form, but even so, the spirit of improvisation prevails.

Next time I will be dealing with the other two major works appearing on Ivan Ilic’s first CD dedicated to Reicha: the “Great Sonata in C major” and the “Sonata in F major with variations on a theme of Mozart”. Until then, I hope these words can contribute to arouse the interest of those people who have not listened to Reicha’s works yet.

Michael Thallium

Global & Greatness Coach
Book your coaching here

You can also find me and connect with me on:

Facebook Michael Thallium and Twitter Michael Thallium

Art, Trade & Life

Carmen González Castro Sola

Those of us who love to dive into the primordial soup of words in search for answers, we sometimes run the risk of getting stuck on words, on the literality. This is a bit paradoxical because there is nothing like knowing the exact meaning of words to avoid misunderstandings. However, and that is the history of mankind, we live in interpretative worlds of our own and we tend to see things based on our life experience. Words are not exempt from this typically human feature and we are used to interpreting words in a figurative and broader sense. Either because of ignorance or convenience, the thing is that we would rather say that typical sentence “I understand what you mean” when we should really say: “I understand what you mean based on what those words mean to me and, luckily, they might mean the same to you”. Understanding each other is a bunch of coincidences which everyone takes in as true and common.

With this little introduction done —of which I can only hope someone may take in as true and common—, I will go deep into the meaning of three words which, in my opinion, are linked to each other: arts, trade and life. ‘Trade’ comes from Middle Low German ‘trada‘ meaning ‘track’, ‘path’, ‘course’. The word ‘art’ comes from Latin ‘ars, artis‘, which seems to derive from the Indo-European ‘ar‘, meaning ‘to fit together’. On the other hand, ‘life’ comes from the Latin ‘vita‘ and has its origin in the root ‘gwei‘, which comes from Indo-European. The Greek words ‘bio‘ (life) and ‘zoon‘ (animal, living being) derive from ‘gwei’.

So, if we agree to define life as “the essential activity or force that is considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings”, then the link between art, trade and life is clear. Life is a path, a trade, an art. Learning the trade of life is the art of being human.

Michael Thallium

Global & Greatness Coach
Book your coaching here

You can also find me and connect with me on:

Facebook Michael Thallium and Twitter Michael Thallium

(Español) Azahar Ensemble: por Turina con respeto, cariño y admiración

Sorry, this entry is only available in Español.

H.E. Huda Ibrahim Alkhamis: A Cultural Dialogue from the Music of the Heart

For most people the name of H.E. Huda Ibrahim Alkhamis may not mean anything at all. And it may be a good thing her name does not really ring a bell to you, because her work as a philanthropist should go unnoticed. It is others —specially young people— this incredible woman helps to shine. Huda is the Founder of ADMAF, the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation, and the Artistic Director of Abu Dhabi Festival, which each year honours a different country —being Korea the Country of Honour in 2019— and welcomes young artists from all over the world, among many others, the Spanish pianist Juan Pérez Floristán. Huda’s dedication to the arts and music as a philanthropist for almost 25 years now is really praiseworthy. She has received numerous awards and commendations from all over the world. Her voice is sweet and calm, her eyes look with kindness and compassion. But when you speak with her face to face, you can tell that behind her aura inviting you to meditation, behind that face with a serene and gentle smile, there is a woman of determination and iron will. Huda was in Madrid and I had the chance and privilege to talk to her at the Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía.

Huda I. Alkhamis-Kanoo. Madrid, June 2019. Photo: Kirill Bashkirov

H.E. Huda Ibrahim Alkhamis. Madrid, June 2019. Photo: Kirill Bashkirov

I need to be honest with you and I must admit that I hadn’t heard of you before your visit to Madrid. And the few things I know about you now it is because I read it on the Internet. You were born in Beirut…

My mother is Syrian. I was brought up in Lebanon until the beginning of the civil war and then we left. My father is Saudi Arabian. Of course, I come from the UAE. So, my origin is Saudi.

Since you always say you want to use music as a dialogue, I’d like to have a true dialogue now with you even if it means I have to ask some tricky questions.

Please, do.

Your work with the foundation has to do with music culture. What’s your perspective when you look, for instance, at Lebanon, a country at war. Isn’t that a conflict for you, I mean, to speak about music and culture while people are dying?

Not at all. I’ll tell you. Of course, I left Lebanon long ago when I was a child… War and peace, peace and war, they’ll always be there. In every country, in every place, in different ways we had the cold war and so on. But I feel our role, we as individuals, we have a choice. What do we support? Do we support peace? Do we support a conversation? Do we support to find ways for understanding? To find ways to counter the decisions of war? I wish from my heart that, at a very high level, war will be abolished. Slavery abolished! War abolished! It’s not a choice. [Huda takes a deep breath and there is a little silence; then she smiles and continues] Until this happens, me and you, we make the choice that the way to counter that is finding ways of understanding culture. Culture is the arts, it’s the music, it’s the story of humanity, it’s what you are doing through your writing, documenting our story, through what I’m trying to do: to invest in the youth, invest in every individual. I believe in the message that we can build something together, benefit the humanity. That’s culture. And that’s when music comes in. And that’s why I’m here. Many people do not know what it stands for. And now today we met. So, there’s a curiosity. And from this curiosity we open doors. Where will they take us? I don’t know. But I know one thing: if there is a will, a true will, a true will to build up on civilizations, to build up on the future, to converse and to work together for the embetterment of the humanity using the arts, the music as our tools to bring up a society of happy youth. Let them decide, let them take us. This is what I stand for.

Maestro Péter Eötvös, Paloma O'Shea & Huda I. Alkhamis-Kanoo at Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía. Photo by Kirill Bashkirov

Maestro Péter Eötvös, Paloma O'Shea & Huda I. Alkhamis at Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía. Photo by Kirill Bashkirov

In your speech at the Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía for the final concert of the academic year with the Freixenet Orchestra conducted by Péter Eötvös, you said your presence in Madrid was due to two women you admire: Queen Sofia and Paloma O’Shea. From Mrs O’Shea you said you had learnt that in order to become a leader, you have to have a vision, a dream and the will. To me it’s quite clear you have willpower, I can tell, but what’s your vision? What’s your dream? Precisely, now.

[There is a little silence again. Huda closes her eyes and lets her inner voice speak]
My dream is to give the youth the future, the chance for a better life in every single aspect, the chance to be happy through creative thinking, free creative thinking, open the doors for them. Let them feel that they can dream themselves, that they can move forward themselves, that they can get every strength they have, they can find every strength they have and be free, be free! When we have no fear, we are free. My dream is to have a youth with no fear and free in their minds, in their spirits to think and to move forward in every aspect. My currency, my tool is the arts. Music is at the heart. And why music? Because music opens the hearts, it opens the minds, opens the souls and has no boundaries. Get them these tools and let them discover. So, my dream is to have the youth with no fear and with freedom. Freedom of spirit and freedom of the mind.

What would you say, for instance, to young people who feel disappointed? How can they overcome that disappointment with life?

I would tell them one thing: you will need to be disappointed to be appointed in the future! Learn from it, learn from your failure and take it as an advantage and not as a disadvantage.

So what did you learn from your failures?

Perseverance. My failures drove me to the right path. If I fail at something, I know it was not the right way for many reasons. Where are the reasons? 1, 2 3… So, Huda, the right way is to avoid these 1, 2, 3 and go to 4 and 5. But never give up! Never! You know, I celebrate my failure.

Being a woman has it been an advantage or a disadvantage for you in the path towards achieving your dream?

It’s like a diamond with different facets for this question. As a woman, being from the United Arab Emirates, I was lucky. Why? Because the leadership in my country gives equal opportunities for women and men. Prove yourself and we will support you! Talk to us, convince us and we will support you! So, here I am almost 25 years ago going to the leadership and to my supporter one of my major sponsors was here today, who came specially from Abu Dhabi to Madrid for the press conference and the concert. Going to them and tell them “I would like to invest in the youth and everything we were talking about just one minute ago, my currency will be the performing arts at the heart of ii is music, and I’m saying classical music, opera, and I need your money to do that”. At that time there was no music conservatoire, the facilities we have today, we played under the stars. But they understood me. Do you know why they understood me? Because this was their vision. They wanted a better future, they wanted to invest in the youth, they wanted a youth with an open mind… But how do we do it? It’s the individual. It’s for us to move and to help the leadership to move forward. I come from a very young country… So, they saw that and they supported me. And I was lucky in here. I had many obstacles, of course, difficulties? Of course. Challenges? Loads until today. But I took it. So, as a woman I was lucky, because I am from the United Arab Emirates. As a woman with children and husband and babies —my husband comes from a pioneering business family; we have the house open and receive their guests—, I love to be with my children… Family for me is the essence of my life. They are very important. So, to balance that was not easy. But, again, I was privileged to come from a family that we support each other. So, I have my mother, I have the neighbors coming there. So, I took advantage of all that and they help! And we need to help each other. And I am grateful! But a woman today can do everything once she decides and I think in every business, I believe that. It’s only for her to decide and to manage. I think it is so simple.

You have been talking about youth, what would you say to a Western woman who is in her twenties and who is feeling in her own flesh the lack of employment and opportunities?

The first thing I’d say is “Don’t lose hope”. As you said, lack of opportunities and unemployment is very high. I agree with you. But I say: don’t lose hope. Always find a way! Keep your determination. Think of what you want to do and if you have the conviction, then you will do it. Keep your focus. And what I see for the young ladies today… You know, we live in the age of technology, but don’t forget the values. Believe in yourself and keep at it. Never compromise! If you do your job, do it well, from your heart and don’t just do it halfway. Do it perfect!

And why did you decide to go for music and not painting or writing or any other kind of arts?

I really don’t know. They asked me this question many times. Music is so powerful! Music is the ultimate power of the art forms. It’s so abstract yet it so powerful! It’s so reachable! I just love it. I don’t know, I’ve been born this way. My path was followed with music. You know, we are surrounded by magnetic fields, we are surrounded by sounds, we are surrounded by vibes… From the beginning, I must have had these vibes of music that elevate the soul and elevate the person.

You’ve travelled the world, you’ve met lots of people and had lots of interviews, I guess, so what’s the question you’ve never been asked?

There will always be a question that has not been asked, but I don’t know. When it comes, I will answer.

That’s a good answer. Maybe this one is that question. What will happen with all your projects, with your vision, when Huda is no longer there, when you die?

[Huda closes her eyes, gently smiles and starts speaking]
I believe that this vision of conversation, of understanding, of culture, of tolerance, of music from the heart will survive Huda for ever long. It will have to survive. This is what I feel.

What are your musical projects for this year and for the future?

We’ll continue to invest in the youth and the educational programs. These projects of creating new opportunities not only take efforts but continuous funding, continuous work with the students and they come from everywhere in the world. The Abu Dhabi Festival will continue to flourish in the classical music, in the performing arts, in the jazz.

When you look back in life and see the twenty year old Huda, what would you tell her?

Huda, when she was twenty, was studying Arts History in Paris and part of her studies was history of classical music. I went to my dean and I told him “I’m gonna drop this course, I can’t take it, I don’t understand music, I don’t feel music, you’re taking me to the opera Garnier and I’m the only Arab in the class, I feel like a stranger.” And he said: “Huda you don’t drop; please, just be patient. If anyone else told me, I’d say, ok, do so, but you are very sensitive for the music, so please don’t drop.” So I did not. And I say to Huda of the age of twenty: “Thank you Huda for not dropping the history of music! Thank you for working hard, because, Huda, look what you are doing today!”

And what would the twenty year old Huda say to you now?

Oh my god, Huda, Bravo! You made it!

We have been speaking about the youth but what would you tell those people we call elderly, who have a life and think there is nothing left to do?

Talk to me, please. Tell me your story. Tell me how I can keep on. Help me! I need you!

Michael Thallium

Global & Greatness Coach
Book your coaching here

You can also find me and connect with me on:

Facebook Michael Thallium and Twitter Michael Thallium

The 13 Behaviours Of High Trust Leaders

STBook--CoverHardWhat separates the great leaders from the good ones? What makes a manager a manager of choice by her reports, peers, and boss? What makes an individual credible with customers, suppliers, distributors, investors, and other stakeholders? While there are many dimensions to these questions, there is one common thread throughout: being an individual who can be trusted.

Perhaps a more important question than, “Who do you trust?” is the far more personal question of, “Who trusts you?” There are some organizations who ask all their employees directly the following simple, key question in formal 360º feedback processes:

“Do you trust your boss?”

These companies have learned that the answer to this question is more predictive of team and organizational success than perhaps any other question they might ask.

A High Trust Leader is an individual who has unquestionably strong personal credibility, has the ability to create and grow trust with others interpersonally, and who is then able to extend that trust organizationally.

High Trust Leaders are managers of choice who understand the impact trust always plays on two key outcomes—speed and cost—and how low or high trust either extracts a tax or produces a dividend on every activity and dimension within a relationship, team, or organization.

High Trust Leaders have learned how to interact with others in ways that increase trust levels while avoiding the pitfalls that deplete trust. While there are numerous actions and behaviors that affect trust accounts, we have identified the 13 key behaviors that High Trust Leaders have in common (the first five behaviors are primarily character-based; the second five are primarily competence based; the last three are equal parts character and competence).

As you go through these behaviors, you may also find it valuable to consider the opposite of these 13 behaviors and how such “withdrawals” deplete trust.

What’s most exciting is that these 13 Behaviors of High Trust Leaders can be learned and applied by any influencer at any level within any organization. The net result will be a significantly increased ability to generate trust with all stakeholders in order to achieve better results.

The 13 Behaviors of High Trust Leaders are as follows:


1. Talk Straight

Be honest. Tell the truth. Let people know where you stand. Use simple language. Call things what they are. Demonstrate integrity. Don’t manipulate people nor distort facts. Don’t spin the truth. Don’t leave false impressions.

“I look for three things in hiring people. The first is personal integrity, the second is intelligence, and the third is a high energy level. But if you don’t have the first, the second two don’t matter.”
- Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire-Hathaway

“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”
- Oprah Winfrey

2. Demonstrate Concern

Genuinely care for others. Show you care. Respect the dignity of every person and every role. Treat everyone with respect, especially those who can’t do anything for you. Show kindness in the little things. Don’t fake caring. Don’t attempt to be “efficient” with people.

“The end result of kindness is that it draws people to you.” – Anita Roddick, Founder & CEO, The Body Shop

“If people know you care, it brings out the best in them.” – Richard Branson, Founder, the Virgin Group

3. Create Transparency

Tell the truth in a way people can verify. Get real and genuine. Be open and authentic. Err on the side of disclosure. Operate on the premise of, “What you see is what you get.” Don’t have hidden agendas. Don’t hide information.

“The people I have trouble dealing with are people who tend not to give full information. They purposefully leave out parts of the story—they distort facts.”
- Shelly Lazarus, CEO, Ogilvy Mather Worldwide

“Trust happens when leaders are transparent.” – Jack Welch, Former CEO, G.E.

4. Right Wrongs

Make things right when you’re wrong. Apologize quickly. Make restitution where possible. Practice “service recoveries.” Demonstrate personal humil- ity. Don’t cover things up. Don’t let personal pride get in the way of doing the right thing.

“What I call Level 5 leaders build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”
- Jim Collins

“Watergate wasn’t so much a burglary as it was the failure to recognize mistakes, to take responsibility for them, and to apologize accordingly.”
- Jon Huntsman, Chairman, Huntsman Corp.

5. Show Loyalty

Give credit to others. Speak about people as if they were present. Represent others who aren’t there to speak for themselves. Don’t badmouth others behind their backs. Don’t disclose others’ private information.

“If you want to retain those who are present, be loyal to those who are absent because the key to the many is the one.”
- Stephen R. Covey


6. Deliver Results

Establish a track record of results. Get the right things done. Make things happen. Accomplish what you’re hired to do. Be on time and within budget. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Don’t make excuses for not delivering.

“There is no ambiguity around performance at Pepsi, which some people perceive as harsh. I see it as an important and necessary part of how you operate. You can’t create a high trust culture unless people perform.”
- Craig Weatherup, former CEO, PepsiCo

“Get good people and expect them to perform.” – Bill Marriott, Jr., CEO, Marriott Corp.

7. Get Better

Continuously improve. Increase your capabilities. Be a constant learner. Develop feedback systems – both formal and informal. Act upon the feedback you receive. Thank people for feedback. Don’t consider yourself above feedback. Don’t assume your knowledge and skills will be sufficient for tomorrow’s challenges.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
- Alvin Toffler

8. Confront Reality

Take issues head on, even the “undiscussables.” Address the tough stuff directly. Acknowledge the unsaid. Lead out courageously in conversation. Don’t skirt the real issues. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Confront the reality, not the person.

“We strive to tell everyone everything we can. We want a culture with open dialogue and straight answers. In terms of our work with employees, we have been direct with them even when they don’t like the answer. Our goal is not to please everyone but instead for them to trust that what we tell them is the truth. You can’t work the tough issues we face unless everyone, starting with the senior team, trusts one another.”
- Greg Brenneman, former CEO, Continental AIrlines

“Leaders need to be more candid with those they purport to lead. Sharing good news is easy. When it comes to the more troublesome negative news, be candid and take responsibility. Don’t withhold unpleasant possibilities and don’t pass off bad news to subordinates to deliver.”
- Jon Huntsman, Chairman, Huntsman Corp.

9. Clarify Expectations

Disclose and reveal expectations. Discuss them. Validate them. Renegotiate them if needed and possible. Don’t violate expectations. Don’t assume that expectations are clear or shared.

“Almost all conflict is a result of violated expectations.” – Blaine Lee

“An individual without information cannot take responsibility. An individual who is given information cannot help but take responsibility.”
- Jan Carlzon, former CEO, Scandinavian Airlines

10. Practice Accountability

Hold yourself accountable. Hold others accountable. Take responsibility for results. Be clear on how you’ll communicate how you’re doing – and how others are doing. Don’t avoid or shirk responsibility. Don’t blame others or point fingers when things go wrong.

“Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.”
- Booker T. Washington

“Remember, when you were made a leader, you weren’t given a crown, you were given a responsibility to bring out the best in others. For that, your people need to trust you.” – Jack Welch, former CEO, General Electric


11. Listen First

Listen before you speak. Understand. Diagnose. Listen with your ears… and your eyes and heart. Find out what the most important behaviors are to the people you’re working with. Don’t assume you know what matters most to others. Don’t presume you have all the answers – or all the questions.

“Nothing beats personal, two-way communication for fostering cooperation and teamwork and for building an attitude of trust and understanding among employees.”
- David Packard, Co-Founder, Hewlett Packard

“We’ve all heard the criticism, ‘He talks too much.’ When was the last time you heard someone criticized for listening too much?”
- Norm Augustine, Former CEO, Lockheed Martin

12. Keep Commitments

Say what you’re going to do. Then do what you say you’re going to do. Make commitments carefully and keep them at all costs. Keep commitments the symbol of your honor. Don’t break confidences. Don’t attempt to “PR” your way out of a commitment you’ve broken.

“Trust is established through action and over time, and it is a leader’s responsibility to demonstrate what it means to keep your word and earn a reputation for trustworthiness.”
- Hank Paulson, CEO, Goldman Sachs

“Trust doesn’t mean they tell you everything. It doesn’t mean they don’t posture. But it means if they say, ‘We will do this,’ they will do it. It is credibility. It is integrity.”
- Scott Smith, Publisher, Chicago Tribune

13. Extend Trust

Demonstrate a propensity to trust. Extend trust abundantly to those who have earned your trust. Extend trust conditionally to those who are earning your trust. Learn how to appropriately extend trust to others based on the situation, risk, and credibility of the people involved. Don’t withhold trust because there is risk involved.

“People ask me how I’ve had the interest and zeal to hang in there and do what I’ve done. I say, ‘Because my father treated me with very stern discipline: he trusted me.’ I’m stuck, I’ve got to see the trust through. He trusted me. I trust other people. And they did the job.”
- Robert Galvin, Jr., Former CEO, Motorola

“The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.”
- Henry Stimson, U.S. Statesman

“I have found that by trusting people until they prove themselves unworthy of that trust, a lot more happens.”
- Jim Burke, former CEO, Johnson & Johnson

Stephen M. R. Covey

© 2004, 2008 CoveyLink |